Unable to hire sufficient staff to keep up with a rising workload, the Trinity County Planning Department has been using the services of a planning consulting firm, SHN Engineers and Geologist, Inc. of Redding, as needed to assist in processing conditional use permits for cannabis cultivation sites and other planning projects for the past two years.
At the end of December, the Trinity County Board of Supervisors approved an increase of $100,000 from the county’s general fund and cannabis revenue to cover additional work by SHN through the end of its current contract term expiring on June 30.
The initial agreement for services, signed in March 2018, was for $25,000. In July of that year, it was increased to $100,000 with a termination date of March 19, 2019. An additional amendment was made at that time, increasing the cost to $250,000 with the current termination date of June 30, 2020. The second amendment also set a task deadline of Dec. 31, 2019, beyond which no other tasks would be assigned to the consultant.
Planning Director Kim Hunter recommended elimination of that task deadline, enabling her to assign additional work based on need and ability of SHN to complete by the end of the contract term in June.
She noted that despite several recruitment attempts to hire new staff to meet the growing demands of the Planning Department and cannabis division, the responses from qualified applicants have been inadequate.
She added that existing staff has been extremely challenged to meet the needs and required timelines of the county’s cannabis licensing program overall.
Hunter said it is more likely that the workload in the department will increase rather than slow down and staff anticipates that the work associated with cannabis will remain similar to what it’s been in the recent past while the number of general planning projects will increase based on recent trends.
“It is evident that there is a need for support from a fully independent consulting firm to quickly and competently handle a suite of current planning items on an on-call basis,” she said, adding the firm has demonstrated that its highly qualified staff is able to consistently and rapidly respond to the county’s task requests.
The existing agreement was not done through a Request for Proposals process, but rather as a sole source agreement due to critical timelines and overbearing workload. However, Hunter said the county will advertise a Request for Proposals before the current SHN contract expires, allowing other consultants the opportunity to bid on the scope of work requested by the county.